Brittney Young embraces the contradictions that make Baltimore unique. A chemical engineer by training, and graduate of the city’s Polytechnic Institute, Young is also a proud product of Baltimore’s dirt bike culture. She is challenging the city of Baltimore to own rather than criminalize a sport that is part of the charm and grit that defines the city.
Baltimore native Brittney Young is working with kids to show them the connection between dirt bike maintenance and STEM careers. (Courtesy photo)
“One of the mottos of dirt bike riders that a lot of people don’t know about is “put a bike up – put a gun down” Young, Director of B-360 a social entrepreneurial organization founded to provide a platform for dirt bike riders to advocate for their sport and connect their innate training with STEM skills and careers, told the AFRO.
Dirt bike riding is currently illegal in Baltimore. At a 2016 press conference announcing the initiation of the Baltimore City Police Department’s Dirt Bike Task Force, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis referred to dirt bikers as “gun-toting criminals” and said the riders have ties to guns and crime, traveling city streets “lawlessly and with impunity.”
Young is out to change that impression. Young grew up in West Baltimore seeing boys and girls, men and women embrace dirt bikes as an alternative to guns and crime. She was one of many persons who gathered at Park Circle on Sunday afternoons during her childhood to watch dirt bike riders perform tricks and stunts and show mastery over their machines.
But now all that has changed. “You can’t ride on the streets. You can’t ride on private property. You can get a criminal conviction for riding and possessing a bike. There are no places in the city for you to legally ride,” Young said.
The Baltimore City Police Department’s Dirt Bike Task Force web site features a link to an eight page document outlining the Department’s policies and codes regarding dirt bikes. Dirt bikes include two, three and four wheeled motorized vehicles and are illegal to buy, possess, fuel or transport in Baltimore City. The vehicles are legal in Baltimore County and other surrounding jurisdictions with the proper permit.
“We’re criminalizing something that many young people turn to as an alternative to stay away from negative lifestyles and behaviors,” Young said. She is fighting back with B-360, teaching the relationship between dirt bikes and STEM skills. At Ashburton Elementary/ Middle School, Young has 30 students and a long waiting list. She teachers students like Daron and Damon how to repair their machines, vehicle safety and how these skills translate can lead them into a technical, scientific or engineering career.
“I started riding dirt bikes when I was six. I saw my cousins, my uncles and I just loved watching them and riding them ever since,” he said. “Ms. Young gives us a positive way to express our love for dirt bikes,” said Damon.
This fall, Young finally found support for her passion to create safe spaces for Baltimore’s dirt bike riders. She was admitted to Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab. Darius Graham, Director of the Lab, said Young was the perfect candidate.
“We invited about 20 people to come in for an interview. When it came to Brittney once we heard her tell us her story, it was so clear that she had the right mix of passion, personal experience and professional expertise to make B360 happen in a meaningful way.”
“We were able to provide Brittney with pro-bono attorneys to help structure her organization. We’ve been able to help her connect to political officials, because dirt bikes have a lot of sensitivity around them,” Graham said.
Six dirt bike tracks and registered off road trails are currently operating in Maryland. Young hopes to continue connecting with Baltimore Police Department and other city officials to provide a place for riders to safely sport their vehicles in the city limits.
“I know people have different feelings about dirt bikes – some love them, some don’t,” Young said. “But this is a part of Baltimore’s culture. Let’s find a way to work through this and decriminalize dirt bikes for the sake of the kids who look up to and embrace the culture.”